ally having a chance to start at some point this this year or just fill a certain role for their new team. I tried to not include players that are widely considered to have gone undrafted due to medical red flags, although I added (at least) one more name for all the teams I didn’t mention among these twelve, at the end of this piece.
Here’s the list:
Chicago Bears – Tyson Bagent, QB, Shepherd
Considering Tyson Bagent received a Senior Bowl invite and at least showed that he has talent during that week, I thought he’d hear his name called late on day three. He left Shepherd with an NCAA record across all leagues and divisions with 159(!) passing touchdowns, along with 17.000 yards through the air, and was named the Division II Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons. However, this is not one of those guys with a noodle arm, who had a far superior group of weapons than his opponents and he just flipped it to wide-open targets constantly.
The first thing that sticks out when you watch this kid is the way the ball pops out of his hand. He’s got a quick release and flexible arm, to alter release points and put different trajectories on throws. Plenty of his production came within the structure of the offense, where he hit guys in stride off their RPO game, layer the ball between zone-defenders in the seam area, lead his targets away from their defender or drill it to them in-between crowded areas. Yet, he’s also very twitchy inside the pocket and seems unfazed by arms swinging at him it seems like, while not needing a ton of space to get his feet aligned perfectly. His ability to manipulate rush angles, add in pump-fakes, extend plays and get enough velocity on the ball without a clean platform is impressive. I posted a clip a couple of weeks ago of Bagent, where’s drifting one way and wraps his arm around an oncoming defender in order to get the ball to a crosser working away from him, where I said this at least gives you Mahomes vibes.
While there are a couple of mechanical things I think can still be ironed out, where Bagent gets himself in trouble is being uber-confident in his ability to force plays. He will need to re-wire his brain to some degree in terms of being able to squeeze in balls a tad late, tight windows he can test and some of the schoolyard-type plays where he gets too loose with the ball away from his body. That won’t fly in the pros. Obviously, I’m not expecting Bagent to just de-throne Justin Fields, after the Bears just passed on the rest of this year’s quarterback class, instead trading back from the first overall pick and selecting an offensive tackle. I think at the very least, this guy has the talent to at least deliver some spark when he gets put out there as a backup. Chicago is a place where if Justin gets banged up and he gets a chance to show off his skills for an extended stretch, he can certainly hang around the NFL for several years, although he now goes back to being an underdog after being the king of D2 for a while.
Buffalo Bills – Jordan Mims, RB, Fresno State
As always, there are several quality running backs who went undrafted, due to the sheer volume of options and the fact you can find rotational players, capable of taking on touches early on. I mentioned a few of those at the bottom, but the one that clearly stands out is Syracuse’s Sean Tucker, who probably would have been a mid-round pick without any medical concerns and has a chance to still show off his explosive skill-set with the Buccaneers, if he can stay healthy. Now, the name I wanted to talk about here however is Jordan Mims joining the Bills. It took him a while to step into the starting role with Fresno State, but he already impressed as a rotational player, before putting up career-highs in rushing yards (1372) and total touchdowns (19) in 2022, making him a first-team All-Mountain West selection.
What stands out with Mims is how he seems to always hit the hole at full speed and regularly clears the reach of defenders trying to get a piece on him as he blows across the line of scrimmage. He’s a decisive runner, who plants the outside foot with conviction in order to get vertical on zone concepts, but also utilizes jump-cuts effectively in order to get to the opposite edge of blockers if defenders overrun the play. He consistently runs with his pads over his knees and is looking to churn out yards through contact, while rarely allowing tacklers to get a straight shot on him, pulling his feet out of their grasp, yet maintaining great fundamentals of keeping the ball high and tight (just one fumble across 434 touches since ’21). What really has me bullish about Mims’ pro outlook is that he was in the role of a pass-catching back early in his career, with 91 total catches for nearly 1000 yards and eight TDs to show for himself. He confidently snatches the ball and has innate feel for people around him as he secure the catch, even if his back is turned towards the defense. Along with that, he was one of the better pass-protectors I watched at the position this year, stone-walling some blitzing linebackers by stepping up and bringing the punch to them.
The reason Mims might not have seen selected is that while he does gain yards through contact regularly, he rarely makes tacklers flat-out miss and allowed the safety to bring him down frequently after exploding into the third level. Plus, then he lacks that extra gear to pull away from defenses and rip off 40-plus yard gains. Mims was extremely impressive to me during Shrine Bowl week and the more I watched of his tape, I just had a tough time finding many negatives, outside of the few that I already knew about on the surface. Buffalo has quite a few bodies in that backfield, but James Cook is better suited to split time with a bigger back, Nyheim Hines was rarely used as something more than a return specialist after they traded for him at the deadline last season and then you’re looking at a couple of power backs with injury history in Damien Harris and Latavius Murray. I’m not sure if Mims can make it through the final roster cuts, since the Bills will likely only carry four guys, but if he gets elevated from the practice squad and gets extended run, he may not give that role back.
Dallas Cowboys – Hunter Luepke, FB, North Dakota State
Yeah, it’s time to talk about a fullback! While this has been a dying position for about the last decade now, there are still teams out there, who use these guys in creative ways to gain advantages on the ground, the personnel they can force defenses to put out there and also get these guys involved in the pass game. A two-way standout in high school, Luepke received interest from nearby Wisconsin but instead joined the Bison, where over the past three seasons as a do-it-all RB/FB/TE, he racked up 1622 yards rushing and another 398 through the air, whilst reaching the end-zone a total of 31 times. He was recognized as first-team FCS All-American in each of those.
At NDSU, Luepke was asked to line up in the dot, as a wing/H-back, true fullback and in the slot. You could feel the effect this guy had as a big back, who they handed the ball to right up the gut, where he looks like a locomotive, taking shots from the side and refusing to go down. Yet, while he displays relentless leg-drive and consistently churns out extra yards after contact, he also has better burst to get around the corner than you’d expect, if defense didn’t take care of contain responsibilities – showcased by a 4.58 at 230 pounds. Yet, what he was best at is just pancaking linebackers when leading in the hole from off-set alignments and wrapping around bodies as an H-back. However, since he did a lot of sift-blocking across the formation to kick out the backside edge defender, he also leaked into the flats off bootlegs, they targeted him on some shot plays, such as wheel routes or drag-and-ups towards the front-side of where they faked zone runs and they even handed him some jet sweeps. This is a versatile weapon, who has enough juice to where you want to put the ball in his hands, but may do his best work without it.
There’s only a couple of players in the NFL that fulfill a similar multi-faceted role like Luepke did at NDSU and I didn’t see any routes that afford precise breaks or whatever to consistently benefit from using him detached from the line/not in the backfield. With that being said, now with Mike McCarthy taking back over as the Cowboys’ offensive play-caller, during his time in Green Bay, he utilized John Kuhn and even Aaron Ripkowski later on quite frequently. Since 12 personnel was their most effective grouping last season, Dallas made it a priority to find Dalton Schultz’s replacement with second-round pick Luke Schoonmaker from Michigan, but I absolutely believe Luepke’s ability to play in-line and add another element to that offense can be useful. Malik Davis is the only legit power back on that roster right now. So even as this organization moves on from the “everything runs through Zeke” mindset and Tony Pollard becomes the lead guy, for the oldschool approach of McCarthy, having a player that can bridge that gap to being personnel-diverse and still taking it to defense with that big O-line, I think makes a lot of sense.
Washington Commanders – Mitchell Tinsley, WR, Penn State
We saw 33 wide receivers selected in this year’s NFL Draft. So that would signal to some people that all the talent must be exhausted. Yet, I’m telling you – this was such a deep class, that there’s a couple of quality players who didn’t end up hearing their names called. One of those is Mitchell Tinsley, who started his career at junior college before joining Western Kentucky, where he put up 87 catches for 1402 yards and 14 touchdowns during Bailey Zappe’s all-time recording-setting 2021 season. He transferred to Penn State for his final season of eligibility, to show he can be a productive player in a Power-Five conference, yet due to inconsistent quarterback play by Sean Clifford and an even less capable passer having to jump in as a backup, Tinsley was limited to 51 catches for 577 yards and five TDs.
This guy has good size at 6’1”, right around 200 pounds, yet for a longer build, he features impressive burst out of his breaks, can easily roll off the inside foot on speed-outs and is capable of using elongated steps outside his frame to affect defenders with his body-language. He really excels at attacking the blind-spot of his man with the way he sells the vertical release before snapping off routes or opens up the middle of the field for himself. He really snatches the ball out of the air and has some impressive high-point grabs in-between defenders on tape, where he aggressively rips the ball into his frame. After securing the catch, he quickly pulls the ball into his body, instantly turns upfield and packs a quick turn, after hauling in curls and hitches, to get positive yardage. Plus, then he has some nice wiggle after the catch and packs an effective stiff-arm to keep defenders away from his lower half.
The reason he didn’t get selected throughout all seven rounds is that he doesn’t have any athletic trump-card to hang his hat on. There’s some wasted movement trying to release from press-coverage, because he doesn’t have that sudden explosion to get to the edges of the defender’s frame and allows light-footed guys to slide in front of him, while lacks the top gear to regularly detach on vertical routes against NFL speed (ran a 4.6 flat at the combine). With that being said, he can be a very productive pass-catcher in the short-to-intermedia range. Looking at that Commanders depth chart, with Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Dyami Brown, you have three guys most dangerous going down the field. Curtis Samuel is a guy they use on shallow crossers, a variety of designated touches and even straight-up handing the ball to him. However, other than Scary Terry and an okay group of tight-ends, they don’t have much in terms of guys who make their mark between the numbers and win through contact over the middle of the field. In think Tinsley can play the Z for them, but Eric Bienemy having Juju Smith-Schuster in Kansas City last year, he may want that bigger slot profile this UDFA presents as an element to their offense.
Dallas Cowboys – Jalen Moreno-Cropper, WR, Fresno State
I just mentioned the crazy amount of pass-catchers selected throughout seven rounds. One of my personal favorites and somebody who didn’t get a call until the final names were announced is this kid from Fresno State – a program, of which I already highlighted another skill-position player earlier – and the Cowboys get a second mention here. Moreno-Cropper was a top-500 overall recruit, who put up nearly 1100 scrimmage yards and eight touchdowns as more of a gadget player in his first two seasons with the Bulldogs, before combining for 2080 yards and 18 touchdowns from scrimmage over his latter two year there, improving from second- to first-team All-Mountain West in 2022.
What really drew me towards Moreno-Cropper were his advanced skills to incorporate different tempo and footwork, along with manipulating defenders with his body language. He’s so jittery off the line and rarely allows guys to impede his release, frequently utilizing split releases, to give himself a two-way go and then reducing that shoulder, to avoid getting hung up with contact. He displays the awareness to float towards and sit or slow down in open space versus zone coverage. You see great hand-eye coordination when he ball is put right on him out of the break and tremendous body when adjusting to targets down the field. Once the ball is in his hands, Moreno-Cropper recognizes defenders around him, instantly gets upfield with excellent awareness for where the first-down marker, but also has that slipperiness to make people miss in the open field. The reason I am still surprised that he went undrafted, considering being 5’11” and 175 pounds is certainly not an outlier in this class, is that he actually ran a 4.4 flat at the combine and has been an effective vertical receiver.
Now, he doesn’t have much physicality to his game, whether it’s playing through contact or taking care of blocking assignments, combining his lack of height with arms barely cracking 30 inches in length, that ability to win at the catch-point is even less than and something he certainly needs to clean up is ball-security, as he had seven(!) career fumbles across 270 total touches. With that out of the way, I think this can still be a productive NFL receiver as part of a rotation. With the trade for Brandin Cooks, to join Ceedee Lamb and Michael Gallup, I’m obviously not expecting Moreno-Cropper to crack the starting three in 11 personnel sets. Yet, if you look at the roster beyond that, you have return specialist KaVontae Turpin, who only touched the ball four times on offense, along with third-rounder Jalen Tolbert from last year and 2021 fifth-rounder Simi Fehoko, who despite injury problems at the position, combined for only 125 offensive snaps and five receptions this past season. To me, while I did like Tolbert, even if they do show interest in getting him onto the field, he’s more of an outside option, and I could easily see Moreno-Cropper see extended workload in the slot as a de-facto WR4, when they don’t have one of that starting three and they move Ceedee to the outside or that guy gets banged up at some point.
Indianapolis Colts – Emil Ekiyor Jr., IOL, Alabama
The one name that absolutely shocked me how he wasn’t selected at all, is this Alabama first-team All-SEC guard. Just outside the top-100 overall recruits in 2018, Ekiyor played in 24 and started 13 games heading into his junior year, when he started all 15 games and helped Alabama finish top-six in terms of scoring offense (39.9). This past season he became a first-team all-conference selection by the AP and league coaches, once again being a full-time starter at right guard.
At 6’3”, 325 pounds, Ekiyor features a powerful, compact build and basically played 2600 snaps in the SEC these last three years. This guy wants to bring the pain in the run game, with a thick lower half and easy ability to create flexion in his joints, where he is consistently to center blocks and create movement. Yet, while he can ride people down the line in the zone run game, he’s also capable of bucket-stepping and scooping nose-tackles on the backside of wide zone, was frequently utilized on different pulling assignments and the reactionary skills to secure blocks in space are impressive for a man his size are pretty darn impressive. In the pass-game, he has the strong lower body to stymie powerful interior rushers, keeps re-fitting his hands and once he gets them latched inside the chest of guys across from him, their rush completely dies out a lot of times. Ekiyor displays excellent awareness for second-level rushers and is capable of tossing them to the turf, whilst delivering some nasty rib-shots if he doesn’t have a direct assignment in pass-pro. That’s how he didn’t surrender a single sack or QB hit this past season across 414 pass-blocking snaps.
The two areas he still needs to work on are not allowing his head to drop as regularly and allow defenders to slip him because of it, along with becoming more effective with his hand-usage as a protector, being slightly off in his timing and relying heavily on two-handed strikes, which makes it easier for defenders to knock them away. Yet, I’m still flabbergasted how he didn’t get his name called at all, as part of an interior O-line class that lacked many starting quality players beyond the top-five. Especially after seeing him move over the center at times during Senior Bowl week and being equally effective with his strong base to negate pass-rushers during one-on-ones. The Colts O-line took a big step back as a unit last season, in part due to some pieces struggling individually and them having to make up for it in some way. They’re hoping Bernhard Raimann can settle in at left tackle after an up-and-down rookie campaign, considering it was only his third season playing on the front-five. Right guard however is still a question mark, where I think Ekiyor has a legit chance to beat out Will Fries and Danny Pinter for a starting spot in training already.
Atlanta Falcons – Ikenna Enechukwu, EDGE/IDL, Rice
Now switching over to the defensive side of the ball, this is a player I saw a path for how he would the NFL might talk themselves out. Having that sort of tweener size at 6’4”, 265 pounds, even at Rice, Enechukwu switched primarily lining up in the B-gap in 2021 to spending 71.2% of his snaps on the edge this past season. Across those two years, he combined for 86 tackles, 18.5 of those for loss, nine sacks and a couple of forced fumbles, which surprisingly was only good for honorable mention All-AAC mention respectively.
This guy packs some violent hands and you see him ride tight-ends into the pile off the backside on a regular basis, when they try to seal him off. You also see him regularly free himself from blocks later on with a rapid arm-over. He showcases good burst off the ball and the ability to run down plays as the unblocked edge defender or tightly follow pullers in order to blow up plays before they even get set up. The line I wrote down when watching Enechukwu rush the passer was “he’s approaching it as if he was fighting for his food, yanking blockers to the side and slapping down their hands in his path”. He brings a sudden shoulder-dip to go underneath two-handed punches and is extremely forceful with pulling the inside arm through on rip moves, in order to corner his rushes. Enechukwu displays impressive flexibility to contort his body and run at an angle with his shoulders not being level and his feet outside his frame, without landing on the ground. And there were a lot of “wasted” reps on passing downs, where he was supposed to crash into the outside shoulder of the guard and pull the tackle with him, in order for the linebacker behind him to be free on loops or just flush the QB in the direction of his teammates. Yet. while the sacks numbers didn’t really stand out Enechukwu did put up another 31 pressures across 308 pass-rush snaps this past season.
Now, while you love the violence this guy plays with, he needs to learn being under more control and actually set up pass-rush moves, too often running into and getting hung up with blockers. His hand-placement and ability to deconstruct blocks in the run game and he doesn’t change directions very smoothly, I believe. Nevertheless, he had a very impressive showcase during East-West Shrine week, where he would routinely blow through the reach of blockers with the rip and flash up the field. That’s why I still believed somebody would take a chance on this guy in the later rounds, as a moveable piece, who can create disruption along the D-line. Looking at Atlanta’s roster, they did bring back a solid early-down player in Lorenzo Carter on an economic two-year deal and took a one-year flyer on Bud Dupree for just three million dollars. Other than that, you’re looking at a couple of guys from last year’s draft – of which I could see Arnold Ebiketie have a pretty good sophomore campaign – and a third-year from Ohio State in Zach Harrison this year. Having fortified the interior of their D-line, I could see the Falcons get to more long downs defensively, where a guy like Enechukwu can bring some chaos to set up different games and be allowed to rush from different alignments.
Seattle Seahawks – Jonah Tavai, IDL, San Diego State
Let’s get to one of the favorite guys I watched during the pre-draft process. The younger brother of now-Patriot linebacker Jahlani Tavai, Jonah turned himself into a different beast over the past two seasons with the Azetcs, when he combined for 106 tackles, 28 of those for loss and 19 sacks, going from honorable mention to first-team All-Mountain West in 2022. This is another name I expected to drop further than where I had him in my rankings, because he doesn’t quite scratch the six-foot mark and comes in just short of the 30-inch arm mark in terms of arm length, but this kid is a bowling ball of butcher knives, who I want to see what he can do out there on the field.
Tavai is quick off the ball and can penetrate in a gap-attack style of front, where he consistently is able to play super-low, reduce his surface area for blockers and not allow himself to be shielded off. While he is slippery to create disruption in the backfield and that’s where he will mostly make his mark in the league, he also has the strong core and arms that allowed him to stack-and-shed at SDSU, even with the length deficiencies. There are plays where he’s lined up at the nose, stays square and just drives the center a couple of yards into the field, not even allowing the ball to press front-side on zone schemes. Plus, he uses his hands exceptionally well to swat down the reach of blockers and create angles towards the ball for himself. Not only does his natural leverage allow him to work underneath and around blockers in pass-pro, but it also allows him to transfer force from the ground up and put linemen on rollerblades quite frequently with the bull-rush. Off, that he seamlessly transitions into the dip-and-ride, where he also shows the ankle flexibility to corner his rushes through contact. On top of that, he flashes a tight, rapid spin move that looks like its sped up when you watch it. That’s how he was able to put up an insane 22.4% pass-rush win rate, with 69 total pressures across 408 rush snaps, and received an elite PFF grade overall (92.0).
Of course having those T-rex like arms with just a 73-inch wingspan forces him to work overtime constantly and it becomes an issue when trying to disengage from blocks once guys get their hands into his frame. He also hasn’t been a very disciplined run defender, trying to get around blockers when he should hold the point and spinning off contact, which opens up voids on the interior, and I thought some teams would be turned off, simply because they didn’t know where he fits. With that being said, I absolutely love that he landed in Seattle, because the guy he reminded me of when watching the tape was Poona Ford – of course that guy’s arms are about three inches longer. So understand the limitations here, but I also believe beyond Jarran Reed being brought back and Dre’Mont Jones being signed as this long guy with inside-out flexibility, there’s very little to get excited about on the interior D-line. The Hawks did draft a couple of guys on day three – Mississippi State’s Cameron Young and Michigan’s Mike Morris – who both have the profile of base D-ends in an even front, but neither excite you with their ability to “win the gap”. I think Tavai has a chance to get on the field for passing downs quite regularly and wreak some havoc.
Minnesota Vikings – Ivan Pace Jr., LB, Cincinnati
What if I told you two of my top-ten linebacker prospects didn’t hear their names called. This was a relatively weak class, especially beyond the top three or four, with a bunch of likely backups and special teamers. Ivan Pace was a lowly-recruited, undersized LB, who broke out at Miami of Ohio in 2021, when he was named first-team All-MAC thanks to leading the conference with 125 total tackles, with 13 of those for loss and four sacks. Then he transferred to Cincinnati and put his name more in the national spotlight, as the AAC Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American, thanks to 136 combined stops, 20.5 of those for loss, nine sacks, four PBUs and a couple of forced fumbles. So how the hell did he go undrafted? Well, he’s only 5’11” with and 30 and ¼-inch arms. Also well, he absolutely should have been picked.
This guy has good thickness throughout his frame and plays way bigger than his size would indicate, even though the 230 pounds he packs are actually slightly above-average for this year’s crop of backers. The way he can step to the hip and rip through the reach of offensive linemen and sort of slip through traffic in order to get to the ball is highly impressive. He has uncanny contact balance and flexibility to contort his body and stay upright versus much larger bodies, consistently winning the leverage battle and maximizing that low center of gravity. Plus, this past season I thought his diagnosing skills and willingness to just “make a play” really stood out. In coverage, he makes sure to disrupt targets in his vicinity and whether it’s some shallow crossers being thrown in front of him or the quarterback deciding to take off on a bootleg, this kid will get there in a hurry and proceed to lay the wood. With all that being said, his best quality I think is actually what he can provide as a pressure player. This guy’s quick-twitch to make blockers freeze their feet and get to their edges with a little wiggle, along with linking his upper and lower half with excellent timing of his hand-swipes, make him extremely tough to slow down. During Senior Bowl in particular, he was pretty much unblocked for the running backs during one-on-one, cross-facing them over and over again. That’s how he led all off-ball linebackers with 55 total pressures last season.
Pace is an obvious outlier in terms of size, ranking in the 1st percentile in height and arm length, which will limit his ability to punch off blockers and finish tackles as consistently at the pro level. Wider bodies can cover him up, when able to climb straight up to him and we have very little tape of him being asked to play true man-coverage against backs and tight-ends, where we don’t know if he’s capable of carrying guys down the middle of the field. However, that’s also not what he should be tasked with. Even with the size limitations in mind, I think watching Malcolm Rodriguez coming out of Oklahoma State and excelling as a rookie for the Lions should give us some comfort in guys with great instincts and violence to their game being able to overcome those. With how sturdy Pace is in traffic, I think he can definitely play on some early downs and where I really want to see him unleashed is as a blitzing specialist in passing situations. Jordan Hicks and Troy Reeder aren’t guys you want to keep on the field in those spots. So with how aggressive Brian Flores wants to be with all the cover-zero rain, a guy that has great awareness and can win his matchups as a blitzer with a regularity seems like a beautiful fit, even if it’s just a specific role he fulfills.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Christian Izien, DB, Rutgers
In terms outside cornerbacks, there are a couple of guys who went undrafted, that I had higher in my personal rankings and were more highly valued on consensus boards. Alabama’s Eli Ricks (now with the Eagles) would’ve probably been a mid-round pick at least without any medical concerns and Oregon State’s Rejzohn Wright was around the top-20 players at the position, but is now stuck behind three highly-drafted guys and another one from a couple of years ago that I’m still pretty high on in Carolina. However, there’s a guy primarily looked at as a nickel, who I think has a chance to make his mark in Tampa Bay. Christian Izien became a starter mid-way through his redshirt freshman season and logged a total of 41 career starts. Across that time, he amassed 303 total tackles, 15.5 of those for loss, four interceptions (all in 2020) and 19 PBUs. He made honorable mention All-Big Ten twice.
This dude is a rocked-up little ball of muscle at 5’9” and 200 pounds, who has regularly been praised for his crazy work in the weight room. He can take a punch by receivers and will fight blockers, in order to get to the football, regularly crashing through one shoulder or showing the quick burst to beat them to a spot, while his lack of height allow him to underneath. Rutgers played a lot of shell coverages, where Izien’s physicality to guide receivers towards the deep safety before positioning himself between routes really stood out. However, you also lose the springy feet to stay square to receivers in man, not commit his hips prematurely and then stick at the hip-pocket of guys in trail position. There may be some size limitations, but running a 4.42 in the 40 and jumping 41-and-½ inches in the vert at his pro day, combined with his feisty play-style, he’s not going to give you anything easy one-on-one.
Due to the measurables, he’s most likely a pure nickel, whose frame is pretty much maxed out already, and with the NFL putting taller bodies in the slot more regularly, there may be some limitations with who exactly he can match up with. There’s definitely a tendency of getting a bit grabby as receivers are about to separate from him and due to his aggressive mind-set trying to get a finger on the ball despite the shrinked reach, he did give up an average of 6.6 yards after the catch last season. Having expressed my concerns, let me say that this dude is a freaking baller and for all the love Utah’s Clark Phillips III received from the draft community, I thought Izien deserved some more pop. At the very least, he should be a special teams demon, where he already has an extensive resume (572 snaps). Yet, looking at the Bucs’ depth chart, unless they decide to drop Antoine Winfield Jr. down into the slot, they’re options for that role are Dee Delaney, who allowed a passer rating of 111.1 this past season, a fifth-rounder from a year ago in Zyon McCollum or a sixth-rounder from this draft in Kansas State’s Josh Hayes. I would not be shocked if Todd Bowles falls in love with Izien’s physicality and mind-set to put him out there as a starting nickel against 11 personnel-heavy teams at least, where he can disrupt receivers in their release and the Bucs can bring the heat now that the timing of routes are thrown off.
Los Angeles Rams – Quindell Johnson, SAF, Memphis
While I wanted to wax poetic about Illinois safety Sydney Brown as one of “my guy”, I did mention Quindell Johnson as a guy I’m much higher on than consensus. He did rise a little bit throughout the draft process and was right on the fringe of being drafted as safety 23, but I had him 12th in my personal position rankings. A three-star recruit in 2018, he decided to redshirt that year, but entered the starting lineup midway through the following season and didn’t leave it from that point on, being named second-team All-AAC in 2020 and ’21, before rising to first-team this past season. Across his 49 career games, he racked up 320 total tackles (226 solo), 15.5 of those for loss, ten interceptions, 24 PBUs, four fumbles forced and three more recovered.
This is a smooth, fluid athlete, who was used pretty evenly between deep safety, slot and in the box for his career with the Tigers. He processes the game and fulfills his assignments at a high level, with excellent instincts and good size (6’0”, 200 pounds) for the position. He sees the field well to decipher through passing pattern, identifies the biggest threat and doesn’t allow the quarterback’s eyes to move him off his landmarks. Plus, then he’s consistent with his angles from depth to stop completions for minimal yardage. Yet, when asked to play more man-coverage in the slot, he understands what to expect based on who he’s facing, stays locked in on their hips, anticipates breaks and rakes through the catch-point. With 33-inch arms and a solid frame, he projects pretty well as somebody matching up with tight-ends for extended stretches. The Memphis coaches called him the “heartbeat” of the defense, thanks in part to his physicality and the way he would attack against the run, playing to his leverage, confidently fills extra gaps being created when being down in the box and quickly IDs reverses, screen passes and such.
I don’t think he’s very explosive or snappy in his hips, to range out to throws outside his area, when playing press-man, he lacks the recovery burst to get back into phase if he misses the initial jam and what really hurt him I believe, was that his missed-tackle number went up by nearly 10% this past season, although I think that will return to being a strong-suit of his game, like it was for the majority of his career. So while he might not be a high-level athlete, his ability to take up and work through information, the way he works upfield against the run and his versatility to fulfill different roles, make me believe he can excel in a split-safety based defensive scheme, which the Rams will run under DC Raheem Morris. In that way, he reminds me very much of a guy L.A. selected in the sixth round last year out of UCLA in Quentin Lake. They still had Jordan Fuller, but other than, it’s two seventh-rounders from the last couple of years in Russ Yeast and Jason Taylor II – who I had right there in my rankings with Johnson – and a late-round pick by the Browns from two years ago in Richard LeCounte. So this depth chart isn’t settled at all yet and I think Quindell has a chance to play significant snaps for the Rams.
Cleveland Browns – Ronnie Hickman, SAF, Ohio State
Talking about safeties and having mentioned the Browns, they actually picked up the guy I put just above Quindell Johnson in my positional rankings. Even being a four-star recruit at Ohio State, Hickman didn’t enter the starting lineup until his third season in Columbus. However, he’s been a very productive player over those two seasons since, earning second- and third-team All-Big Ten accolades respectively, with 152 combined tackles, three interceptions, seven passes broken up and two fumbles forced. Even though I was once again higher on Hickman than the consensus, he was considered a fifth-to-sixth-round pick.
At 6’1″ and 205 pounds, this guy brings a chiseled physique with 33-inch arms. When playing the deep middle, you don’t see him blindly void his space, but you love what Hickman brings charging up the alley against the run from split-safety alignments. You see him create stalemates against big backs in the hole or chop down guys on the perimeter for minimal yardage, and slot receivers don’t stand much of a chance trying to shield him in that regard. Thanks to his instincts and play-making skills, Hickman was regularly deployed as a single-high safety, but he has experience in a variety of coverage assignments, showing plus peripheral vision and awareness for targets around him, giving the appropriate depth as receivers push vertically towards him when playing deep and staying true to his landmarks until it’s time to transition to man-coverage basically and attaching to the next-closest target. When actually playing man-coverage, he recognizes any tilt or deceleration in the route, getting a jump on breaks and contesting the catch-point to forcefully. His coverage number this past season were exceptional, holding opposing quarterbacks to 13 of 30 targets his way for 107 yards and no touchdowns, while he made one pick and logged a passer rating of just 39.2.
You do see Hickman round off his pursuit angles regularly and allow offenses to gain more yards than they should, as he ends up pushing guys out of bounds rather shutting plays down before they can get there. He will certainly need to work on bringing his hips and arms through the hit, having missed 14.9 percent of his career tackling attempts with the Buckeyes. And what I believe scared evaluators was how a couple of the speedy receivers during Senior Bowl week blew by him. I personally don’t believe you’re doing Hickman any favors asking to legitimately stick one-on-one with burners in the slot, but with his frame and efficient footwork to redirect, he can absolutely be a matchup against tight-ends. To me sort of feels like the forgotten the man of this safety class, because he doesn’t excel in one area maybe, but he’s a very complete player with great for the position. The Browns signed Juan Thornhill and Rodney McLeod this offseason, to go alongside a former second-round pick in Grant Delpit. I would think Hickman is fourth in that pecking order, but if Jim Schwartz wants to tap into some big dime packages or they have injuries to those front-line guys, from what I’ve seen by Hickman, I believe he’s really to step in and give them quality snaps.
One more UDFA to track for each team:
Arizona Cardinals – Blake Whiteheart, TE, Wake Forest
Baltimore Ravens – Keaton Mitchell, RB, East Carolina
Buffalo Bills – Richard Gouraige, OT, Florida
Carolina Panthers – Camerun Peoples, RB, Appalachian State
Cincinnati Bengals – Jaxson Kirkland, IOL, Washington & Shaka Heyward, LB, Duke
Cleveland Browns – Mohamoud Diabate, LB, Utah
Dallas Cowboys – Myles Brooks, CB, Louisiana Tech
Denver Broncos – Thomas Incoom, EDGE, Central Michigan
Detroit Lions – Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota &
Green Bay Packers – Benny Sapp III, SAF, Northern Iowa
Houston Texans – Xazavian Valladay, RB, Arizona State
Jacksonville Jaguars – Kaleb Hayes, CB, BYU
Kansas City Chiefs – Deneric Prince, RB, Tulsa
Las Vegas Raiders – McClendon Curtis, IOL, Chattanooga & Drake Thomas, LB, N.C. State
Los Angeles Chargers – Jerrod Clark, IDL, Coastal Carolina & A.J. Finley, SAF, Ole Miss
Los Angeles Rams – Xavier Smith, Florida A&M
Miami Dolphins – Michael Turk, P, Oklahoma
Minnesota Vikings – Andre Carter II, EDGE, Army
New England Patriots – Malik Cunningham, QB, Louisville
New Orleans Saints – Anfernee Orji, LB, Vanderbilt & Jerron Cage, IDL, Ohio State
New York Giants – Habakkuk Baldonado, DE, Pittsburgh
New York Jets – Jason Brownlee, WR, Southern Miss & Trey Dean III, SAF, Florida
Philadelphia Eagles – Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama
Pittsburgh Steelers – David Perales, EDGE, Fresno State
San Francisco 49ers – Joey Fisher, OL, Shepherd
Seattle Seahawks – C.J. Johnson, WR, East Carolina
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Sean Tucker, RB, Syracuse & Jeremy Banks, LB, Tennessee
Tennessee Titans – Caleb Murphy, EDGE, Ferris State